Matters of the Heart


The month of February is a month that really gets short-changed.  In comparison to its other monthly brethren, it is most often short by 2 days, and even on leap years it is one day shy.  Meteorologically, it is considered the last month of winter, and if we are honest, by that time we are simply waiting for that month to draw to a close.  Popular holidays include Groundhogs day and Valentine’s Day.  For those of you who may be wondering, the collective groundhog weather predictors have only predicted an early spring 15 times, while seeing their shadow 99 times, indicating 6 more weeks of winter.  Thankfully, research indicates that the groundhog is only right 39% of the time.  Valentine’s Day, a day set aside to demonstrate our love to others, is a much more popular holiday, unless you find yourself shopping for flowers and a greeting card at the last minute at your local 7-11.  Along with that, it is American Heart Month in the United States, and this leads to the real point of this piece.

Substance use and abuse can have wide ranging effects on the heart, most of them harmful, and some life-threatening.  While cocaine and methamphetamine use is most often linked to cardiac complications, many other drugs like opioids and even marijuana can produce harmful effects on the heart.  Smoking marijuana can elevate a person’s heart rate by 20 to 50 beats per minute.  While this does not often pose an immediate heart risk, research indicates that within an hour of smoking marijuana a person is at five times their normal risk of having a heart attack (National Institute on Drug Abuse, June 2018).  Opioid abuse, not often directly linked to cardiac problems, can contribute to many health conditions that impact the heart.  Bradycardia (slowed heart rate) and vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) can lead to lightheadedness upon standing, and increasing the risk of injury by falls.


Cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine (technically not cocaine, but a powerful stimulant), are referred to in the medical community as the “perfect heart-attack drugs”.  Even those people who identify as recreational cocaine users have been found to have stiffer arteries and thicker heart muscle walls as compared to non-users, both symptoms of heart disease.  The stress placed on your cardiovascular system after using cocaine can induce a heart attack or possibly result in aortic dissection, or a tearing in the aorta, which is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

If you struggle with drug abuse of any sort, get help.  It is not too late to reverse the harmful effects that drugs have had on your heart and body.  People are ready to help.  Breaking Free offers assessments to clarify the problems you may be having, and treatments to help get your life turned around.  If you choose to get help elsewhere, please do it, for yourself and those who care about you.  SAMHSA’s National Helpline is available at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).  Spring is right around the corner, and by the way, don’t trust an overstuffed rodent for your weather forecasting…I mean, come on people.

Written By:
Herb Stricklin, LCPC
Clinical Director at Breaking Free